“Kung Fu” Fighting: Review for “Kung Fu Panda”

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 Kids movies with messages tend to be kind of preachy and annoying. There are a few exceptions, but not many. Actually, a lot of kids movies over the last five or six years haven’t been up to scratch as they were in the ’90s. Yes, there was Pixar, but other than that, only a few not only became box office surceases, but also critical ones. I was in the theater watching Wall-E and during the previews, there was a trailer for a new movie from Dreamworks Animation Studio. The company had had its hits and misses. For the hits, they had the Shrek franchise and the Madagascar series. For misses, they had Shark Tale. It seems a little funny and a little risky that, while churning out kid movies, they also get A list casts. What if the movie stinks? Wouldn’t that ruin or at least make a scratch on their career? Well, some might think that. I, personally, am surprised how they got the actors to participate in the films without going bankrupt. You’ve got Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, David Schwimmer, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Martin Scorsese, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Black, even more big stars. It is an extremely brave decision to do that. By that, I mean hire huge stars who could easily sue you for tens of millions of dollars or publicly disown the film (that’s what Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman did with The Stepford Wives). Anyway, the trailer was for a film about a rather rotund panda bear living in China who loves kung fu. I could not have thought of a dumber plot line. Jack Black had been hyping the film on Nickolodeon a lot as time went on. I still thought that nothing could be more mediocre than a fat panda acting as if he cared about martial arts. It just didn’t click for me. That is, until I actually saw the film. I had been avoiding going to see the film for a long time, but I finally decided to rent the movie on DVD. And I loved it. Sure, the big cast thing is very risky, but the voices pay off. Jack Black plays a lovable panda who works in his father’s noodle shop. When he learns that the Furious Five-a group of martial artists consisting of Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen, God knows why he’s in a kid film), Crane (David Cross, Arrested Development), Monkey (Jackie Chan!), and a leader of sorts, Tigress (Angelina Jolie)-are about to pick the Dragon Master, he rushes up and accidentally falls into the middle. When the old Tortoise is probably about to pick Tigress, he falls in front of him and is named the Chosen One. The Five have been mentored and trained by a tiny red panda named Master Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman (for those of whom who have not already figured it out, the character’s name is a play on words, the original being “sifu”, which is, ironically, the Japanese term for master). The comedy was very cute and all the actors seemed interested in their characters. Their voices weren’t bored sounding, as if they really got into their lines. The food part, where Po (Jack Black) and Shifu fight over the dumpling, is very funny. The fight scenes, even though they’re digital, are fantastic and very well “choreographed”. And the message is clear: be disciplined and believe in yourself. This is a fun and wonderful kid film.

Grade: A-

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